The 2023 MLB season is off to an impressive start. But it’s all for naught if MLB can’t enforce the “sticky thing” equally and consistently.
Major League Baseball (MLB) needed to jumpstart the 2023 season and has magnificently done so with shortened games (pitch clock), more offense (arresting the shift), and the return of skill on the basepaths (larger bases and limited pickoff tosses).
MLB set a record for first-round attendance, with 1,010,999 people making it to the stadiums on Opening Day. It was the most-attended round in MLB history and a 98% increase over the previous record of 510,056 in 2017.
The pitch clock is working, even to the point of forcing teams to extend the sale of beer beyond the seventh inning – because shortened games mean reduced revenue at the concession stands.
But For All That Good…
But the occurrences on the field this past Wednesday at Dodger Stadium that resulted in a ten-game suspension of Met’s pitcher Max Scherzer serve to remind us that MLB is still capable of shooting itself in the foot, and, in the process, denigrating the game to spite itself.
Resin, as a substance to allow the pitcher to better grip the ball, is legal per MLB rules.
The issue of its use is not new to MLB, and this is the first time a pitcher of this magnitude has been ejected for a foreign substance. The other two, Hector Santiago and Caleb Smith were tossed in 2021, shortly after the league started instructing umpires to do random checks. All were ejected by umpire Phil Cuzzi.
Two bags are placed behind the mound before each game and pitchers can apply them to their hands at will.
But there is nothing in the rule that allows for the usage of time to go to the resin bag (pitch clock) or the fact that resin itself is subject to natural chemical reactions that can cause the substance to become stickier than the rules are meant to allow.
For example, Scherzer was told at least twice to wash his hands. He did so under the supervision of an MLB official.
However, using soap and water can cause minor ripples on the ends of fingers – no big deal during the normal course of a day for anyone – but something a pitcher like the veteran Scherzer seeks to avoid as a deterrent to gripping the ball. Hence, Scherzer used alcohol to clean his hands, thereby, causing a reaction to the resin on his hands making them even stickier than before.
So, it is no wonder the umpires became even more inflamed with Scherzer when he returned from washing his hands, ultimately leading to his prompt ejection from the game.
MLB: Scherzer’s Counterpoint
Scherzer, however, has a point, expressing it to the New York Daily News:
“There’s no objective, quantifiable measurement of stickiness, of tackiness,” Scherzer said. “What can be deemed legal in one inning is all of the sudden deemed illegal in the next inning just by applying sweat.” (sweat also alters the chemical composition of resin)
Life goes on and although Max Scherzer bowed to the wish of the Mets hierarchy (including Buck Showalter) to not appeal, what’s important to keep in mind is that this was a judgment call made by an umpire, and there was no consideration of any foreign substance other than resin.
In the bloodiest manner, MLB has let it be known to all pitchers – we mean business, so cut it out. That’s fine, and it stands to reason (though we’ll never know) that Scherzer’s caliber as a future Hall Of Famer represents going for the king as an example to all and slaying him convincingly.
MLB Needs A Definitive Test
The problem, however, is there is still nothing definitive regarding MLB’s interpretation of the rule regarding the use of resin. It’s like alcohol in that it’s okay to have a drink and drive – but not too much. Two and you’re over the limit – three and you are downright smashed.
The trouble, of course, is there is no measurement of impairedness for resin as there is with alcohol. I say you are using too much resin, and you say no, but there is no arbiter other than an MLB umpire on the field who has a high strike zone and another who consistently calls the low strike waiving the high strike.
The difference, though, is that a major-league hitter can accommodate himself to a given umpire’s strike zone. And in the worst case of a bad call, it’s only one of 27 outs in a game.
Here, with Scherzer, the Mets will be trying their best to figure out a way that loses him only one start, rather than the two starts normally imposed within a ten-game suspension. This is for a team that is in the thick of a pennant race facing the loss of their ace while beset with a host of injuries to their pitching staff.
One thing that emerged from the events and discussion of this incident is that MLB needs to move immediately on banning the use of resin in the dugout, where a team or pitcher can do God knows what to the bag.
MLB: A Solution Within Reach
In sum, for all the good that MLB has done to improve the game of baseball this year, there’s still a blot on the game when the suits at MLB dump the enforcement of a rule on the umpires with no clear representation of what’s legal and what’s not.
Beyond that, in this age of ever-inspiring technology, there must be a “gauge” that can be developed to measure the “stickiness” of a pitcher’s hand…